In which we discuss the Timberwolves at the midseason point, Ricky Rubio trade rumors, how the Wolves’ young core compares to others, and potential 2017 draft prospects.
In case you missed it, we are now writing for A Wolf Among Wolves. (awolfamongwolves.com).
Timberwolves training camp opens on Monday with their annual Media Day. Once the players and coaches are on the floor, doing actual basketball stuff, we’ll be better equipped to carry on substantive Wolves discussion. Meanwhile, there are a couple of team issues and one gambling-related Wolves item to kick around in these final dog days of NBA offseason.
Andy G: Vegas released its NBA over/unders. That’s always a fun and interesting wrinkle to the “gearing up for the season” #process.
Let’s cut to the chase:
The gamblers set the Wolves at 41.5 wins.
They won 29 last season.
They won 15 the season before that.
Is picking 42 or more wins a crazy proposition?
Kris Dunn’s rookie peers recently selected him as “most likely to win NBA Rookie of the Year.” Yes, that sounds a lot like a high-school yearbook superlative.
Believe it or not, the superlatives do not always reveal the truth: the 2015-16 equivalent was 76ers big man Jahlil Okafor, who had all kinds of times. But he was not nearly as good as Karl Towns.
So, what have we got here? Much ado about nothing? Or does Dunn’s selection (probably) portend special things for his career? It’s early, but it’s the internet. So why not discuss? We discuss some initial thoughts on Kris Dunn below the fold.
A few years ago, I heard about a conversation that Rick Pitino had about local prep star, Tyus Jones. I was one layer of hearsay removed from it, and it’s been a few years, but here is the general gist of what Pitino apparently said about the Apple Valley prospect:
“Tyus Jones is not a ‘one-and-done.’ He thinks he’s a one-and-done, but he is not a one-and-done.”
It wasn’t an earth-shattering assessment of Tyus, if you had seen what he looked like — scrawny and maybe not even six-feet tall — but I found the phrasing sort of interesting, especially from somebody in Pitino’s position. Pitino probably recruited Jones to play for him at Louisville, and in that process he came away thinking that the kid was more confident about his pro prospects than he should have been. (Also, Pitino’s son Richard had recently taken over the University of Minnesota coaching job, and he was definitely trying to recruit Jones. I’m sure father and son compared notes.) Despite his high hopes for himself, thought Pitino, Jones was not going to be ready for the NBA within nine months of stepping foot on whatever campus he chose. (Duke, as it turned out.)
A few years later, was Pitino right or wrong?
I mean, Tyus was, literally, a one-and-done. He went to Duke, won a national championship (and Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four honors) and was selected by Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft.
In that respect, Pitino was wrong.
But last year as an NBA rookie, in terms of Tyus’s actual production and overall readiness as an NBA player, Pitino’s assessment was probably validated too. Tyus was overwhelmed in many of his rookie-year stints on the floor. Sam Mitchell remained loyal to the unexpectedly-fallen Flip Saunders and committed to development over “win now” strategies. He played youngsters like Jones the minutes they needed to learn on the job. But in Tyus’s case more than anyone else’s, there was question of whether those minutes were constructive or discouraging.
Jones shot a miserable 35.9 percent from the field. Worse than his shooting percentage was the drop-off in Timberwolves quality of play when Jones manned the point instead of Ricky Rubio. With Rubio at the helm they actually outscored opponents by 1.1 points per 100 possessions, With Tyus, they were outscored by a whopping 10.0 per 100. That is like dropping from a 7 or 8 seed level of play down to the worst team in the entire league.
But watching Jones, three things stood out that gave some hope that his future might still be bright, even if it would require patience.
Free agency begins tomorrow, and the Timberwolves will be looking to add a big man. While NBA positions are less rigid than they used to be, I think there’s a reasonable chance that the Wolves will try to acquire a “true center.” I have two basic reasons for expecting this:
- I believe Tom Thibodeau wants to start winning right away; not in a year or three.
- Last season, the Wolves were absolutely destroyed on the interior whenever the 7’1″ Kevin Garnett was unable to play. Which was most of the time.
Karl-Anthony Towns has a big future ahead of him (Captain Obvious) and most of that future will probably involve him playing the center position. The sorts of matchup nightmares that he will present at that position are probably the biggest reason Thibodeau took this job in the first place.
But last year, he was not able to defend very well as a five, and — again, if they are trying to win right away — the Wolves will probably sign a full-sized big man to at least insure themselves against certain types of matchups when KAT would be better off at the four spot.
In case you forgot one of the primary negative themes of last season, I’ll run a few quick numbers by you:
- 107.1. This was the Wolves defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). It ranked fourth worst in the league.
- 108.8. This was their D-rating without Garnett. This was just a hair better than the Lakers, who were the league’s worst defensive club.
- 96.4. Their D-rating WITH Garnett playing. Instead of playing league-worst level defense, with a talented seven footer out there, the Wolves defended slightly better than the historically-great San Antonio Spurs.
This was me, a week ago, after reading some mocks and predictions that had the Wolves selecting either a point guard (Kris Dunn) or a shooting guard (Jamal Murray) with the fifth pick in the draft:
Right around the time that the Wolves selection of Dunn was announced on Thursday night, Woj crystallized my earlier sentiment with this:
These intertwined pieces of important Timberwolves information hit us like a 1-2 punch; leaving Timberwolves Nation collectively… well, perhaps a little bit “punch drunk,” in the 48 hours that followed. On Twitter, I think I pretty much observed the gamut of “takes.”
“This doesn’t necessarily mean Rubio is gone. Maybe they can play together.”